Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

It’s that time of year again – the Big Garden Birdwatch. I think every year I write a similar post about that mixture of anticipation and frustration that this fantastic bit of Citizen Science brings. The usual feeling of “where have all my regular birds gone” followed by the joy a pair of blue tits bring when they appear in the nick of time to make the cut. The red kites last week were undoubtedly magnificent, but when you’ve been sitting freezing your proverbial off for an hour, the sight of a pair of blue tits can be just as rewarding.

I did our garden count on Sunday, an unfortunately blustery day, which I presume is what put a lot of our birds off; rather than just sheer wilfulness to avoid being counted. In the end I only recorded 27 birds of 7 species – way below our garden norm and less even than I can see just glancing out now.  But data is data, so I hope our paltry count will still be of use. So all I saw was:

  • 14 sparrows – there may actually have been double that but, they were in the bushes and impossible to count more for certain.
  • 2 collared doves
  • 1 wood pigeon
  • 2 magpies
  • 1 blackbird
  • 5 jackdaws
  • 2 blue tits

I did try to take photos of those that landed on the bird table, but our overgrown teasels were flapping about in the wind in my line of sight, so I only managed one of the jackdaws.

The blue tits were a bit easier as they were feeding in the apple tree closer to the house.

While, I watched a mainly empty garden, Chris took himself off to his workplace and did the Birdwatch there. Bird envy is a terrible thing, so I tried to be pleased for him when he came back with these photos of a Grey Wagtail and Chaffinch.

So that’s it over for another year. Apparently this year was the 40th anniversary of the Big Garden Birdwatch. It started as a survey just for children to do, but thankfully us adults are allowed to join in now too. Our garden birds often seem to make themselves scarce during this annual count, but it still gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction to know that we’re contributing to a really useful bit of science. And sitting just quietly watching the wildlife in your garden for an hour, with no interruptions or distractions is no bad thing either!

 

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

Last weekend was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch – one of my favourite bits of citizen science to participate in. Unfortunately it was one of those dull, grey January days where the sun just doesn’t come out – and nor did many of the birds. Coupled with that, my camera was in for repairs so I couldn’t even take photos of the ones that did appear. I persevered though as it would have been a shame to miss out on it this year, having done it for the last few years.

So I spent an hour crouched behind my camouflage netting hoping neither the birds nor the neighbours could see me (neighbours think we’re mad enough as it is without seeing the camouflage!). As always seems to be the case, the birds which moments before had seemed so plentiful, all disappeared as soon as I got my notepad out. But my masterplan worked as I’d topped up all the bird feeders just before and they couldn’t resist indefinitely.

The sparrows were abundant as usual. I’ve no idea how many we really have visiting the garden, but I’m sure it’s much more than the 13 I managed to count in one go. I suspect we have closer to 25 or even 30, but they’re impossible to count all together, so I stuck with the 13 definite that I could see at once.  Next largest presence was the jackdaws – 5 of whom put in an appearance on the bird table. These are at least big enough and obvious enough to be much easier to count.

The rest of the birds came in just ones and twos: blue tits, robin, blackbird, goldfinches, starlings, woodpigeons, crow, dunnock, blackcap (female) and magpie. A total of 32 birds of 12 species. As usual I had several no shows – birds that have graced our garden in the days before and days after the count. These include the wren, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits and chaffinch – all of whom I’ve seen today.

The RSPB give you a nice little pie chart when you upload your results. It only shows 10 species, so misses out the crow and the blackcap, but at least represents 30 out of the 32 birds I saw.

You can also get a similar representation of the national results so far. So as of this afternoon, sparrows were leading the way nationally, as they were in our garden. But there was no sign of our second most abundant bird, the jackdaw, in the nation’s top 10. Perhaps we are just in a hotspot for jackdaws, or they particularly like the selection of bird food we put out here?

This year’s results for our garden were very similar to last year’s (https://toolazytoweed.uk/2017/01/28/big-garden-birdwatch-2017/). So it’s good to know there are no dreadful declines here at least – keep putting out the bird food and they will come!

While I was skulking around the garden, Chris went for a walk near his work in Malvern. He didn’t do a bird count as he was moving around too much, but he did see a few more interesting birds than I did.

Jackdaws we do of course have in the garden, but I liked this fluffed up one.

Although Chris did at least have a working camera, unlike me, he was still plagued by the same dull grey light that made taking decent photos a bit difficult. So apologies that these next 3 photos aren’t exactly fabulous, but the birds themselves were. A great spotted woodpecker, a kestrel and a tiny goldcrest. Not a bad trio to spot on one walk.

And as if seeing all of those wasn’t good enough, he even managed to come home with some decent photos of a wren. It’s obviously not the same wren that torments me daily in our garden (I swear it danced in front of the window today knowing I still have no camera), but it’s great to get any decent wren photos. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best, so here are my favourite 4 photos.

So a bit of birdy citizen science for one of us and a bit of bird photography for the other. A weekend well spent I reckon.

Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

Today has been all about the birds. It started when I switched on the tv to check our new nest box camera. I was amazed to discover something had left a “deposit” in the box  – clearly visible via the camera. Never have I been so excited by a poop in a box! While regaling Chris with the momentous event, it got even better – a blue tit appeared on screen in the box, had a look around and removed the poop. We hadn’t yet got the software to record the video feed (that arrived in the post about an hour later of course!) and I was too surprised to even grab the camera to take a photo of the telly. So you’ll just have to take my word for it. (I could post a photo of the stain left by the poop but that is probably more than anyone wants to see) Hopefully this is all a sign that the blue tits approve of the box and will start using it as more than a toilet in the next few weeks.

The main focus of this weekend though is the annual Big Garden Birdwatch – one of my favourite examples of citizen science. This birdwatch is also the world’s largest wildlife survey – an amazing achievement. We’ve been making sure the bird feeders have been well topped up the last few weeks and there have certainly been plenty of birds in the garden recently.

assorted-birds

So I sat down late morning in the garden to do my allotted hour of bird watching; camera and notepad at the ready. Although not everything showed up in the hour, I was really chuffed to record 14 species and 30 individuals – a significant improvement on last year when I only got 21 individuals of 7 species. I do love a graph and the RSPB sent me this little pie chart (well half a pie) of 10 of my species.

birdwatch-results

So topping the list was the house sparrow with 12 birds – I’m sure we actually have about 20, but I could only manage to count 12 at any one time. Last year I counted for the hour then took photos afterwards. This year I tried to get photos of everything as I counted them, although the best I could manage was 2 sparrows in one shot. I’d tucked myself away in the corner of a garden so that I disturbed the birds as little as possible, so I was actually a bit far away for taking photos – hence the dubious quality in some cases (excuses, excuses).

sparrows

The next most common bird today was the jackdaw – three appeared but only two ever seemed to land at the same time.

jackdaws

Collared doves and blackbirds both managed 2 individuals. The collared doves landed nicely together, the blackbirds of course kept their distance, so I’ve only got one.

collared-doves

blackbird

We’ve got a pair of blackcaps that regularly visit the garden and both male and female showed up within the hour. The female was more nervous though so I only got a shot of the male.

blackcap

The robin, a starling (one of 4 we sometimes get) and the song thrush all turned up on cue for a change.

robin

starling

song-thrush

Earlier in the morning I’d seen several long-tailed tits, a great tit and a pair of blue tits. Of these only a single blue tit deigned to put in an appearance during the hour.

blue-tit

I’d put up a new niger seed feeder just a couple of days ago and the goldfinches had found it almost immediately. I’d seen 3 or 4 of them on it yesterday, but today I was grateful when just one arrived. Unfortunately when positioning the niger seeds I hadn’t considered trying to take photos from the other side of the tree – so there’s a few too many twigs in the way!

goldfinch

A magpie, a dunnock and a wood pigeon all appeared briefly, but out of range of the camera. The final bird was a wren. This wren has been tormenting me for weeks. It has a tendency to appear whenever I’m in the garden without the camera. If I do have the camera, it appears but hides behind as many twigs/branches/weeds as it can find. So believe it or not this is probably the best photo I’ve ever managed to get of it – which isn’t saying much!

wren

I’d had the trail camera on while I was counting, just in case it could pick up something I’d missed. It didn’t spot anything different, but it did film this goldfinch – probably the same one I photographed from the other side of the tree.

01280016

Of course once the hour was up and I was back on the sofa, the birds returned en masse to taunt me. Leading the mockery was the woodpecker, which I haven’t seen for weeks but chose to land on the bird table just after I’d submitted my results. The long-tailed tits flew back in and the wren perched on the most photogenic spots possible – safe in the knowledge that I couldn’t get a photo from this distance!

Anyone thinking of taking part in the birdwatch has until Monday to have a go. Full details on: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch

As I now have the image capture software all loaded, I will probably be spending the rest of the weekend watching an empty nest box with only a dubious stain on the bottom!

 

Big Garden Birdwatch

The Big Garden Birdwatch weekend is here!

As usual the garden has been aflutter with birds in the days leading up to the Birdwatch, but come the day itself, everything went quiet! I had been dutifully keeping all the feeders topped up for the last couple of weeks, in the hope of establishing some kind of loyalty amongst the local bird populations. They may be loyal, but they are not very punctual, most refusing to do their turn in the allotted hour.

Fortunately some did eventually grace the garden with their presence; a total of 21 individuals of 7 species. So here’s the final tally:

  • 11 House Sparrows
  • 2 Blackcaps
  • 2 Blackbirds
  • 2 Blue Tits
  • 2 Long-tailed Tits
  • 1 Great Tit
  • 1 Robin

I only managed to count 11 sparrows in one go, but I reckon there were a lot more lurking in the bushes, just taking it in turn to make an appearance. The goldfinch, wren, pigeons, dunnocks, coal tits and starlings, that have been seen in recent weeks, all got shy and refused to show (they were probably doing the conga in next door’s garden out of sight of me and my notebook).

Long-tailed titHaving done the actual count, I thought it would be nice to take photos of all the species that had featured (give them their 15 minutes of fame). I could of course have counted and snapped at the same time, but wielding a pen and a camera simultaneously, just seemed like too much effort! Needless to say not all of the magnificent 7 chose to return for their photo op. The long-tailed tits were obliging, just too damn fast to get shots that did them justice – this was about as good as I could manage.

The blue tits are of course always photogenic and the sparrows squabbled to get themselves in the best shot.

Blue TitSparrows

I had seen both a male and a female blackcap during the count, but only the female returned to get her photo taken – eye to eye as it happens with the great tit.

Blackcap and Great Tit

Bird boxesSince the birdwatch had got us in an avian frame of mind, we decided it was time to put up the new birdbox the other half had bought me for Christmas (no sparkly jewels for me!)  New box duly installed on side of garage next to old one. We were really chuffed last year to get a family of Blue Tits in the old one (which got cleaned out today too while he was up the ladder), so fingers crossed they like the new des res (it’s not just a bird box, it’s an M&S birdbox!)

There’s still time to do a count for the Big Garden Birdwatch if you haven’t already. When I looked at their webpage just before posting this, they’d already had over 2 millions birds recorded by nearly 100,000 people. Why not join in? https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdwatch

 

Citizen Science

With the Big Garden Birdwatch coming up this weekend, it got me thinking about the other forms of Citizen Science (Citizen Smith’s nerdy cousin!) that the other half and I get involved with from the comfort of our own garden.  For amateur biologists like us, these projects are a great way of indulging our hobbies and hopefully contributing something useful with the information at the same time. Most of the ones we participate in require no specialist knowledge (phew!), no specialist equipment and often very little time. Yet when enough people contribute, they can provide significant amounts of information that the scientists couldn’t get any other way.

BlackbirdThe Big Garden Birdwatch is one of the oldest projects and has been going for over 30 years, allowing the RSPB to monitor long term trends in our garden bird populations.  You just need to watch the birds in your garden for an hour and count the maximum number of each species you see. For more information go to: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdwatch

Small CopperThe Big Butterfly Count is a relative newcomer, having only started in 2010, but already it’s become the biggest butterfly survey in the world. Last year over half a million butterflies were recorded in over 50,000 counts – you couldn’t pay for that amount of data!  For this project all you need to do is record the maximum number of each of the target species you see in just 15 minutes during the 3 weeks the project runs each summer. For more information go to: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/

I’ve been monitoring the moths in our garden for a while now and last year took part in Moth Night in September.  Moth night runs for a different weekend each year with a different theme each time (this year it will be Hawk-moths). You can either run a moth trap in  your own garden or go to one of their public events. For more information go to: http://www.mothnight.info/www/ This year I’ve decided to go one step further and joined the Garden Moth Scheme. This project gets volunteers to put out moth traps in the garden once a week over the summer months and log their findings. Since I’ve been more or less doing this anyway, joining the scheme seemed like the logical thing to do. For more information go to: http://www.gardenmoths.org.uk/

Painted LadyIf you don’t want to get involved in anything too formal, some schemes just require you to log certain species as and when you see them. Butterfly Conservation runs a Migrant Watch for Painted Lady butterflies and Hummingbird Hawk-moths. These species are becoming increasingly common in the UK and may be indicative of climate change. You can help monitor this by simply logging any sightings of them (at home, work wherever you see them). Humming Bird Hawkmoth 3For more information go to: http://butterfly-conservation.org/612/migrant-watch.html

 

 

 

Azure DamselflyThere are schemes for all sorts of species – we’ve logged dragonflies and damselflies at http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/ and reptiles and lizards at http://www.recordpool.org.uk/index.php You name it there is probably a recording scheme for it somewhere.

Although I’ve always been interested in encouraging wildlife into the garden (hence the abundance of wilderness areas – honest that’s the reason!), it was taking part in a Garden Bioblitz a few years ago that really fired my enthusiasm. In a Garden Bioblitz you simply record all the species (plants and animals) you can find in your garden over a 24 hour period.  The first time we did it, the other half and I recorded 119 species – and that was before we had a moth trap! Hopefully this year we can improve on that. If you fancy having a go – http://www.gardenbioblitz.org/

In short (after rambling on longer than I meant to), if you’re interested in wildlife and observing it anyway, why not put those observations to good use and submit them to one of these schemes?